Speaking and caring:
The lives of Doris Martin and Mary C. Hart
The Martin-Springer Institute was named after, and started by, longtime Flagstaff resident Doris Martin and her husband Ralph. Martin is a woman small in stature but with a voice that projects bravely into all the spaces in which she speaks: Auditoriums, elementary school classrooms, lecture halls.
Her panel in the Resilience: Women in Flagstaff Past and Present exhibit leads with a grim introduction: “Doris Martin (nee Springer) was twelve years old when the
Nazis invaded her hometown of Bedzin, Poland.”
It then reveals that Nazis burned Martin’s family’s synagogue to the ground with 200 people inside. In 1942, Martin was brought to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, before she was sent to Ludwigsdorf, part of the Gross-Rosen camp. More than 6 million Jews would die at the hands of Hitler’s regime.
Decades later, Martin would publish her book, Kiss Every Step: A Survivor’s Memoir from the Nazi Holocaust, for which interviews with Holocaust survivors, including herself, were conducted by her husband.
“Unfortunately my brother Josef, for whom these events are still too painful to relive by discussing them, has participated minimally in the process,” the book’s preface reads. “We were just one of millions of Jewish families caught up in the Nazi Holocaust. My parents had five children, and what is exceptional about my family’s story is that all seven of us survived the Holocaust.”
It would be that miraculous survival, and encouragement from a young man named Philip Wiser, that would eventually prompt Martin to speak publically, though a handful of other life events would come before that day.
The Martins moved to Flagstaff in 1971, less than 30 years after the war ended. She and Ralph initially relocated to open a motel. At the time, Martin kept silent about her experience during the Holocaust.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when former NAU student and resident advisor Phil Weiser organized an event to commemorate the Holocaust. There was a screening of Schindler’s List and a professor came to talk about WWII—both led up to Martin taking the stage to tell her story.
Steadily progressing from the first time she told her story at the Cline Library Auditorium, where she broke down several times, pausing and then restarting, Martin began to speak to audiences more and more.
“I think that was kind of [the] catalyst that got her going, and I think it was so important then,” Weiser said. “I’m lucky. I’m from the Phoenix area and as an elementary school-age child I got to interact with lots of Holocaust survivors. For a kid to get first-person accounts, not read about it, that’s big. To have someone in the flesh tell you, ‘This is what happened to me.’”
Weiser would go on to form a close friendship with Martin— she came to both his son’s bar mitzvahs, and still today calls herself Weiser's mother.
“To have her be part of our life is amazing, and that is part of not forgetting, it’s the cliché, but if you don’t remember history then you’re doomed to repeat it. The fact that she was brave enough to [speak]. I’m sad that when I have grandkids they’re not gonna hear from any survivors,” he said.
Storytelling remains a key part of the Martin-Springer Institute’s mission as well, which includes creating public programming about the Holocaust and current injustices. Storytelling serves as a crucial tool in making people aware of past and present issues, a small but invaluable means to keep history from repeating itself.
As current director of the institute, Bjorn Krondorfer, wrote in a recent email:
“Teaching the Holocaust must rely on a number of factors if we are to learn from it: one needs to teach the history and social context accurately, but one also needs to emphasize the human dimension through testimonies and personal stories. “
In many of her lectures Martin stresses that she has two birthdays, the day she was born, and the day she regained her freedom from the concentration camps.
There are different ways to facilitate healing. Where Doris Martin’s words serve as an agent to address collective and individual trauma, the work of Mary C. Hart lay in coordinating healing in the more traditional context of a hospital, healing of the physical body.
Enter here a two-floored, tall-windowed stone building with a white-accented veranda on Fort Valley Road. The structure that now houses the Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum, and before that, a boardinghouse, was once a hospital. Called the Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent, it was operational from 1907 to 1938 and provided care for the poor and homeless population at a time when much of the town simply referred to the institution as “the poor farm.” A 1914 photograph housed in the NAU Cline Library Special Collections shows tall rockers on its porch, facing what is now Fort Valley Road.
Hart worked at the hospital from 1920 until the year it closed and the Flagstaff Medical Center opened.
Having moved to Flagstaff in 1889, Hart would stay in the Arizona Territory until her death at age 75. She lived a life in the confines of expectations within womanhood all the while going to work day after day.
Hart was married for the first time at age 15 to a man who was later declared “insane.” Following that, she had five children with a man named William Hart, but as their marriage began to fail she was not permitted a divorce. Though she eventually was given one in 1923, she spent the interim raising their children as well as caring for the sick.
Hart was instrumental in the running of the hospital, doing administrative work that ensured it operated like a well-oiled machine on a daily basis.
Hart is buried in the citizen’s cemetery, as her write-up in the Resilience points out, with recognition only of her motherhood and no mention of her time at the hospital. Her tombstone’s inscription reads only: “Beloved Mother.”
The Pioneer Museum has references to its past: An iron lung, a nurse's room, surgical equipment and oral histories about its time in Flagstaff history.